A Frustrating Discovery

In Which I Discover that all this time the DLC add-ons I thought I was adding to my games on the Xbox One were not actually added to the games!?

The world of games and gaming is supposed to be an orderly one in which the tech that makes up the primary vehicle for gaming is reliable and trustworthy and functions like clockwork.  When you purchase a DLC expansion pack or item, or you grab a free one, you expect that after it downloads it WILL be added to your game, and you WILL be in a position – at the appropriate time – to take advantage of and use that new content or item, right?  Right!  No, WRONG!

Well, it should be Right – but it turns out at least in the case of the Xbox One to be all wrong.  And very frustrating.

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I first became aware of this due in no small part to another potential disaster that I am in the process of correcting – that being the sudden realization that I was out of storage space on my Xbox One.

What happened was the game I was playing suddenly started acting all strange – with stuttering video.  It got worse when I tried to apply a new accessory pack and it went V-E-R-Y freaking S-L-O-W.

A brief check revealed that my Internal Storage was down to less than 10 percent free.  So I tried to move some games over to my very spiffy and totally reliable external storage — a 2TB Western Digital My Book USB 3.0 external storage device.  Which I discovered I could not do because it was down to less than 5% free space!?

How did this happen without me being aware of it??  Why did the Xbox One not WARN me that I was running out of room??  Will little Stevie be rescued from the bottom of the well in time??

Okay well as for Stevie, it’s a coin toss.  And I never liked that kid anyway.  But as for the rest, well, the reason the Xbox One failed to warn me is mostly because the wizards at Xbox and Microsoft never thought to add that sort of alarm to the system.  I sent them an email suggesting that they do so – because hey mates, I got your back!

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Had Ta Get Some New Sto-Sto!

Understanding that my position was precarious – and that I would not be able to continue playing games, let alone working on any of my writing projects (which at the moment means working on the Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 Walkthrough and Guide for NeoSeeker – which is a game I am very excited about guiding) – I understood instinctively that it was time to get more storage.

That meant deciding on HOW to do that.  I had several options – though replacing the Internal drive was not one of them as this is an Xbox One, not a PS4.  Fortunately just as I was sinking into deep and dark depression fate stepped in and graced me with her presence in the form of the code for the game that was provided by my editor being for the PlayStation 4 edition of the game and NOT the Xbox One edition.  Catastrophe averted!

But I still needed to get more storage on my Xbox One, and here were my choices:

(1) Buy a new drive and add it to my Xbox.
(2) Buy a larger drive and replace the 2TB My Book with that.

In their wisdom the blokes at Xbox opted to add support for TWO external storage devices for the Xbox One, which by the way has a total of three (3) USB 3.0 Slots on it.

Logically that is a good thing because it means that, say for example I wanted to upgrade to a larger storage device, I could attach it to my Xbox and then transfer all of the content to it that had filled up my orginal drive, no worries.  So that seemed like the way to go – and then in the future depending on the cost per TB of storage hardware I may do the same thing or, based on my experience this past week, just add a second larger drive (more on that later) instead.

So I decided to go with replacing the WDMB with a larger unit.  Initially I thought to go with a larger Western Digital My Book – say a 4TB model.  But when I went pricing the drives I discovered that I could get a nearly identical external storage device from Seagate (it too is a 7200 RPM USB 3.0 AC-powered unit) but, if I opted for the Seagate model I could get a whopping six (6) TB for the same price as a 4TB My Book!

Naturally I went with the Seagate 6TB model.

When my honey brought the new drive home – along with a 1500VA / 900W UPS for my main system whose RAID Array does NOT like being suddenly without power at all – I was very happy as I installed it and began transferring the contents of the My Book to it.

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There Was Trouble…

But that is when I ran into trouble.  Not storage trouble mind you, but the trouble that has prompted me to write this post.  See as I was moving the contents of the old drive to the new I discovered something that both shocked and disturbed me.

If you are a gamer you know that the modern games environment is a very different one from what we used to have.  Today you need lots of storage because while the games consoles still use the original media for a game to verify you own the license and should be able to play it (that’s for RBE games – digital titles come with a digital license that is saved on your console), they also tend to have lots of DLC-based expansion content, be that new maps, missions, story content, weapons, or kit.

Okay that’s not a problem – so far.  But during the process of moving the data files and games from one device to the other, I accidentally discovered something I was previously ignorant of.  For a LOT of the games I owned, not ALL of the DLC and expansion content had actually been installed!

Understand this – the content – the DLC packs – had been DOWNLOADED.  They just had not been INSTALLED!?

For games like Just Cause 3 or Hitman if that happened it would be obvious – because the content would not be present in the game.  No, for those titles the DLC was faithfully downloaded, installed, and properly licensed for my games.  I noticed nothing wrong.

But in the process of moving the games I had to perform the following specific steps:

  • Open the Settings Option from the Xbox One Main Menu;
  • Select All Settings from that menu;
  • Select System and then Storage from the Settings Menu;
  • Select the device to move the games FROM (Internal or My Book);
  • Select View Content for that device;
  • Move the cursor to the desired game I needed to move and select Manage Game;
  • Select Move All for that game then select the Destination (my new device);
  • Confirm that I want to Move All.

Sounds simple enough, right?  Yeah, but here is the thing – in the process of doing this I accidentally moved the cursor to the Ready to Install option on the side menu, and there, where it should NOT have been, was the following in that selection for the game Gears of War 4:

  • Brothers to the End and Vintage Del Gear Packs
  • Crimson Omen LE Controller Content Pack
  • Map: Blood Drive
  • Map: Checkout
  • Map: Clocktower
  • Map: Diner
  • Map: Drydock
  • Map: Glory
  • Map: Hotel
  • Map: Impact Dark
  • Map: Old Town
  • Map: Slab
  • Map: Speyer
  • Map: War Machine

Are you freaking kidding me!!??!

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When I had originally obtained all of that DLC I SAW it download and I just ASSUMED it was installed into the game.  Big Mistake.  BIG MISTAKE!

NONE of it had been installed.  I just never noticed.  And when I checked I found that in one of every four or so games this was ALSO the case.  Expansion content and DLC I had bought and downloaded had simply NOT been installed by the system.  What the hell?!

So as I moved the games and any content that HAD installed over to the new device, I then had to INSTALL the stuff that had been downloaded but never actually installed.

I was pissed.  Very angry.  I seriously considered writing an email to President Trump to warn him about this because I knew that HE would be pissed.  After all he owns and plays an Xbox One – can you imagine how much uninstalled DLC that HE must have?!  In my fantasy head I could see agents from the DEA and ATF and FBI and IRS and ABC and LOTS of other three-letter acronyms kicking down doors at the Redmond Campus, and not even bothering with taking names.

They’d be like – “Bill of Rights?! We don’t need no steeenking Bill of Rights!  Who is the idiot that allowed this threat to national gaming security to take place?!  Tell us now or we will line you all up and start shooting you, one-by-one, until you do!  Because Trump!  Because ‘Merica!  Hell yeah!”

That could happen though, so I deleted the email.  Sigh.

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Opinions sometimes have that effect…

How The Heck?

I have no idea how this happened.  I have no idea how I failed to notice this.  I have no idea how to fix it other than to go through every title on my Xbox and check to see if there is content that failed to be installed.

It’s not like I can just look at the “Ready to Install” selection and know because it FAILS TO LIST THEM.  That’s right – there is NO number next to that selection in the menu to tell you how many or even IF there is content Ready to Install – and unlike the regular patches that appear in the Main Menu section appropriately titled “Updates” which DOES list the number of Patches that are Ready to Install, but on the Settings/Storage Menu not so much.  It just does not.

So here I am, with all my games finally installed on the new Seagate external storage unit, checking the games one-by-one to see.

This, mates, is a cautionary tale.  It is my suggestion to you that you just might want to start checking YOUR game library for content you downloaded but, for a mysterious reason, was never actually installed.  Because mates don’t let mates drink-drive, and they don’t let them have uninstalled content.  I’m just saying!

Hitman 2016 – the Episodic Adventure

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We’ve been getting a lot of email asking if the boxed edition of Hitman (2016) that is set to release before Christmas is worth buying? The simple answer to that is, uh, yeah! That said though with the release of the last episode it’s time to talk about Hitman.

The final chapter of Season 1 is the Hokkaido, Japan Episode (Episode 6), which released in October and marks the very end of the episodic release schedule for Season 1. We’re still not certain what caused the soap opera that seemed to surround it over the course of the past year, but when all is said and done, we are pretty satisfied with the way this all turned out.

When the reboot of the Hitman series – Hitman (2016) – was announced at E3, the game play video samples that they offered us at the Square Enix booth made a definite – and good – impression.

Originally the game was going to be released in the traditional manner, which is to say the wizards behind the game create it, it gets retail boxed packaging, and it gets played like most video games get played.

Then they announced that the game would be split up into several parts, with the initial release set for March 2016 and containing three locations — Paris, France; Sapienza, Italy; and Marrakesh, Morocco. But that was not what happened…

The Episodic Release Announcement

After the initial reveal and announcement – then the announcement that it would be split into chunks – the folks over at Square Enix – and the game wizards at Io Interactive – changed their mind and their plans for the new Hitman again, opting to release the game in two distinct stages.

The first stage would consist of the game engine and base game plus the first Chapter – the Paris Map – and the second stage would be made up of regular episodic releases.

Episodes (or chapters) that would arrive on a schedule of about one per month, which would contain a new map, and a new set of challenges built around the story mode level for that episode / month.

The way that they described it was as “a truly episodic AAA game experience, with a major live component.”

“We decided to take the full leap and publish Hitman as a truly episodic game experience,” said Hannes Seifert, head of studio at Io Interactive, in a press release.

“Part of that decision is for that little bit of extra time to ensure every location we release is at the quality level fitting for a Hitman game. But the main driving reason is that this will allow us to create a living game that will expand and evolve over time and establish a foundation for the future — this is the first game in a storyline which will continue and expand with future Hitman games.”

When the game launched on 11 March 2016 it did so in digital form; a physical copy in the form of a retail boxed disc would not be arriving until the entire set of episodes were released.

The game featured a rather creative form of pricing – the base game, which included the Prologue Chapter as well as the first Episode (Paris) could be had for $15, with each additional episode costing $10. Or the intro package could later be upgraded to the full package for an additional $49. Players also had the option to purchase the full game at $60.

Ultimately the first season of the game consisted of the following:

  • Prologue + Episode 1: France – Paris / The Showstopper (March)
  • Episode 2: Italy – Sapienza / World of Tomorrow (April)
  • Episode 3: Morocco – Marrakesh / Gilded Cage (May)
  • Special Summer Bonus Episode – Sapienza + Marrakesh / The Icon + A House Built on Sand
  • Episode 4: Thailand – Bangkok / Club 27 (August)
  • Episode 5: United States – Colorado / Freedom Fighters (September)
  • Episode 6: Japan – Hokkaido / Situs Inversus (October)

In addition to the above story-mode missions there were also Weekly live events that alternated between Elusive Target Contracts and Escalation Contracts, offering the players a combination of missable content and unmissable content in the form of escalating contracts.

Only the folks at IO and Square know for sure what the real reasons were for the game being carved up like it was – but we know that regardless, it turned out to be well worth the wait and the delay. Hitman (2016) ended up being a worthy successor to the last game in the series and we cannot wait to see what comes next.

That said though – if you were waiting to see whether this was worth getting you should really wait a little longer and buy the retail boxed disc rather than the digital version, because the disc comes with all of the extra content, including some sweet in-game items.  So yeah, worth getting, worth waiting a little while longer to get.

If you are curious about our impressions of the game, check out the game reviews we have written so far over at the Cape Cod Times:

How to Grok World of Tanks

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“I don’t get that game.  Why do you want to play it?  It’s stupid!

“It’s just a bunch of people getting randomly killed by other people!

“What is the difference between a light tank or a medium one?  Or a heavy one?  Aren’t ALL tanks Tank Destroyers?!

“And what the hell is a Self-Propelled Gun anyway?!  It looks like it is a tank with no top for crying-out-loud but it works like it was artillery!”

The complaints went on like that for another ten minutes as we sat in the booth at Johnny Rockets waiting for Jim to finish venting.

Last month we met at Red Robin – I like Johnny Rockets better and Chance knows that.

Chance likes me – he has a man-crush on me and I know that.  So I only had to mention that I was craving a Johnny Rockets shake when we were getting ready to depart the Cape for him to make the decision.

Since we had to pass the Burlington Mall on the way to parking at Chance’s grandmother’s house before taking the train into Boston and Pax East anyway, Chance decided that as Captain of our “Team” that was where we would lunch.

As the oldest person at the table I was out of place among the predominately college student crowd at the table – they were all law students at UMass Dartmouth, whereas I was plenty old enough to be their father.

One reasons that they tolerated my presence was that I’m a pretty good gamer.  Another was that I write – in fact that’s how they met me.

One of their professors asked me to come to the school and give a talk about writing to the pyramid and clarity of expression – a skills set that  lawyers (and those who want to BE lawyers) really benefit from having.

And of course there is the fact that I am handicapped, so nobody wants to make me feel bad by doing something like ask why I was hanging around what were arguably children when our ages are compared.

For my part, this has a lot to do with that whole “adult” thing.  You know, the story that you get fed when you are a kid about how you are not old enough to do whatever it is you want to do but are being told you are not old enough – and that you will understand later, when you are an adult?  That’s total horseshit.

Last time I checked I was old.  Really old.  And you know what?  I don’t feel anything different inside than I did when I was fifteen and was being told I would understand when I was an adult.  More to the point, the only thing I have come to understand is that you can use that logic on a teenager when you don’t want them to do whatever it is that they want to do, and it works every time.

So in a nutshell, what I understand is that the reason I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do then was because they did not want me to do them.

I understand that the only difference between the me then, and the me now, is a matter of consequences.

As in “I now understand that there are consequences to the things we do.”

On the inside I am still the same person I was at 15 – I just have a LOT more responsibility and the option of hiding in the bathroom or saying “I’m sick” no longer works because why?  Because the bank still expects my mortgage check on the first, that’s why.

“I think the problem you have here Jimmy, is that you don’t understand how this game works,” I said, waiting until he had slowed to a squeak.

“Uh, yes I do,” he declared.  “Grandpa!” he added after a brief silence.

“Well if that’s the best insult you can muster on short notice I sort of get why you can’t grok World of Tanks,” was my reply.

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“Grok?  What is that?  That isn’t even a word!” he gasped.

“Listen little man, words are the tools I use to pay my bills.  If I say that’s a real word, it bloody-well is.  I am paid to know the difference.  For instance earlier you used the word ‘factoid’ wrong.

“From how you used it, I gather you think it is a small fact – when in truth the word ‘factoid’ is defined as the use of incorrect ‘facts’ which, if you carry out that logic to its proper end, means they aren’t facts at all — they’re essentially imagined ideas repeated and reprinted so often they’re accepted as fact when they aren’t factual at all.

“And by the way, ‘irregardless’ Jimmy?  Not a word.

“What you meant to say was ‘regardless’.  Oh, and fuck you very much,  Jimmy,” I added.  Then took a long pull on my Orange Creamsicle Shake.

“I think Chris is right about that – there was a student in one of my classes last term that said irregardless and the prof came down pretty hard on them about using made-up words and… Oh… Wait… That was you,” Chance said, causing the rest of the table to chuckle and Jimmy’s face to glow.  What can I say, Chance likes me.

“Well Grok is not a word.  What is it supposed to mean?” was his feeble reply.

Grok,” I explain, “Was taken from Robert A. Heinlein’s 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land, and technically is from the non-existent Martian language.  The dictionary defines it as understanding something intuitively, or by empathy…”

“Well Merriam-Webster says its definition is ‘to understand profoundly and intuitively’ but yeah, it’s a word,” Kay announced by interrupting me.  Holding out her smartphone she showed Jimmy the page on Grok from the dictionary website.

Kay is Chance’s girlfriend and, believe it or don’t, she’s a good gamer. Notice that I did not qualify that by saying something sexist like, “for a girl.”

Kay grew up in a nudist resort in Florida.  Her personality is almost precisely that of the character of Kit Keller in the movie A League of Their Own.

Kit was played by the actress Lori Petty, who I like a lot.  Her most recent credit is for the character of Jeri in the TV show Gotham if that helps you remember her.  Actually the character she played in Orange is the New Black – Lolly Whitehill will probably be more easily recalled.

If you want to know her defining role of all time at least in the Kingdom of Chris?  That would be as the title character of Tank Girl, in the movie by the same name which is based on the  British comic strip by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin.

Kay has a lot of heart and a willingness to put in hard work for the betterment of her guild or team.  For example she has a high-level White Mage in FFXI and a healer in WoW – not because she likes playing the healer mind you, but because someone has to.  Good gamer.

“And in any event, I honestly believe that if you give me five minutes I can explain World of Tanks to you in such a way so that you not only understand it, but find you actually like it,” I said, completing my interrupted thought.

“Cha!  Right!” Jimmy laughed.

“You do realize that after you explain it to him he is going to say that he still does not understand you, and he will declare victory; even if such declaration is silent and false and only takes place inside of his head?” Kosei asked.

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“It really bothers me that you don’t use contractions in your spoken English,” I replied.

Kosei is from the city of Osaka, in Japan.  He is here reading Law because the company he works for and who basically paid for his education decided – in their infinite wisdom – that he will one day head up their legal team that is responsible for representing it in American courts.

That company – a popular Japanese automaker – strikes me as intimidating for a number of reasons. They require Kosei to write a report on himself twice a year that explains what he has been studying and that offers a critical assessment of his progress, including a section on what he is doing wrong and how he can correct that and thus improve the results being obtained.

That is just whack!

Or perhaps it’s the notion that they could be looking so far ahead into their needs for legal representation that they would evaluate their employees reading law on the company dime in Japan and, upon his graduation in Japan, dispatch him to Massachusetts to study law at UMass.

What bothers me even more is the fact that they chose UMass, Dartmouth as the law school he would attend.  Why there?  Why not Yale, or Harvard, or Columbia?

I actually asked Kosei that question and you know what he replied?  He said “There are already members of our team reading law at those schools.  It has been explained to me that this school graduates a disproportionate number of attorneys whose area of litigation tends to be or include product liability suits, and it is anticipated that the personal contacts and social relationships that I establish here will have far more value to the company.”

Kosei has a credit card from his employer that he is expected to regularly use to entertain those social contacts – which is how his group of mates go to New York City on the weekends as well as elsewhere – for social activities.  Is that whack or what?

So yeah, in addition to being valuable to his company for the reasons described above, Kosei is valuable to our guild for a completely different set of skills.  You see, in addition to being able pick up the check for dinner whenever he wants to, Kosei is willing to translate the Japanese symbols from the Inscriptions in the Customization Screen in World of Tanks – which I very much appreciate since most of them do not say what the game says they say.

Also he orders for us when we eat at Zenkichi on 6th Street in Brooklyn.

You see normally you can only order via the current menu as Zenkichi uses the Omakase style of menu selection  – and while that does change every month or so, when we eat there Kosei just tells the host that we want – and I quote – “どのようなシェフが考えることは、今日は良いです.”

What happens when he orders is the Chef comes out to the table and inquires as to our expectations.  Kosei then explains that our concerns tonight lean towards texture and the experience of complimentary flavors.

That’s a pretty serious and important distinction – which you know if you have ever eaten genuine Japanese cuisine.  We are basically asking that the Chef select the meal we eat – which pretty much is how Omakase works in the first place – but it really is not the same thing.

Whatever we get as a result of our order will not be a dish that appears on the current menu – it will literally be the dishes that the chef felt would properly serve our desires in terms of textures that compliment the flavor of the meal.

Yes, it is pretty ballsy to order like that – and yes, often the result is some pretty strange ingredients.  All that aside though, we’ve never regretted it.  Not once.

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 About World of Tanks

Following my offer – basically throwing down the gauntlet – Jimmy was browbeaten into sitting and listening to me as I tried to explain the game to him and so fulfill the claims I made.  So I did.

World of Tanks is pretty much what you said – a game in which a bunch of people ride around in tanks trying to kill each other.  And not surprisingly they succeed more often than they fail, otherwise you wouldn’t have a winning team.

You were saying that a major part of your problem is you did not have access to the type of tank you want and need.  You also loudly stated that you would not pay to get it.

Actually what Jimmy said was – “I’m not like Koko here, I don’t have a credit card I can just use without having to worry about paying the bill – so I can’t just buy the tanks I want!”

In truth, Kosei doesn’t mind being called Koko – it turns out that the name belongs to one of the characters in a book series he reads that he admires a lot.  The character is called Koko and, if I understand this correctly, is a psychic cat.  He also does not use the company card to pay for World of Tanks purchases as far as I know, and even if he did, you can’t really buy tank levels like that.

“The structure is very simple.  If you look at the Tanks Screen for France (or one of the smaller countries that don’t have a huge list of them) you will see that the tree begins with the Renault FT – which is a light tank that  was created in 1929 as one of the first production tanks for the French Army.

“You play with that tank until you have the XP built up to upgrade it – once you have done that, you then build up the required XP to pay to research the next tank up in the generation tree.

“The FT is a Light Tank in the first gen of tanks.  It is the ONLY First Generation tank in the French Tank Tree.

“The Second Generation of tanks in the Tree are the Renault FT/AC which is a Tank Destroyer, the FT/D1 which is a Light Tank, the H35 Hotchkiss which is another Light Tank, and the Renault FT 75 BS – which is a Self-Propelled Gun 0r SPG.

“Whichever one of those you decide you are going to research will pretty much dictate the line of tanks you will continue to research.  So for example you level up the XP for the Renault FT, and then you research the Renault FT 75 BS.

“After you work up the XP to research the various upgrades for the FT 75, you will then research the Lorraine 39L AM which is the next tank in the tree and a Rank/Generation 3 Tank.

“After that you research the Rank/Gen 4 AMX 105 AM nle. 47, then the Rank/Gen 5 AMX 13 105 AM mle. 50, and finally the Rank/Gen 6 AMX 13 F3 AM – which was developed in the 1950s and mass-produced for use in France as well as sales to Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Morocco as well as others.

“That is the level or rank you were complaining you needed.  If you opted instead to go with, say, the US Tank Tree, the path would be similar but you would have more options even from the start.

“For example when you completed the research of the Rank/Gen 4 Tank – which is the M3 Lee – you would then have the choice of moving on to the M4 Sherman (a Medium Tank), the T1 Heavy (A Heavy Tank) or the T14 (another Heavy Tank).

“All that is assuming you followed the bottom branch of the American Tree mind you.  But let’s say you instead followed the Artillery Branch like you did in the French Tree because that is what you are interested in.

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“The path that would have followed is the top branch of that particular tree – so the Rank 1 T1 to the Rank 2 T1 HMC, then you had to decide on either the Rank 3 M7 Priest or the Rank 3 T18 HMC.

“If your ultimate goal is to unlock and use the Rank 10 T92, then it doesn’t matter which of the two Rank 3 tanks you researched, or the Rank 4 either – but when you reached Rank 5 your only choice was to research the M41 HMC as that is the only one with a direct path to the T92 at Rank 10.

“Basically the take-away from this is that the selection of tanks you make early on actually does matter.  And you need to have a clear idea of what the high rank tank is that you eventually mean to field.

“Now that only applies to the SPGs – later you might decide, hey, I want to use the Light or Medium Tanks now, and maybe after that a Heavy – or the Tank Destroyer.

“In that case, you look at the tree and you see that you can use the Rank 2 T3 HMC Tank Destroyer to get to the Rank 3 T56 GMC Tank Destroyer, and so on.

“For the Lights you choose the M2 then the M3, the M6, M7 and so on.  Now you understand how the Tree works.  That means for all practical purposes you have mastered the game in terms of its structure.

“You know how to get to the tank you want, so all you have to do is put in the work.  In that case the work is simply playing the game!

“Let’s say that I wanted to follow the Tree at the bottom because I want to unlock the Achievement for owning five French SPG’s at the same time.

“To do that I will need to research the FT BS, then the 39L AM, the AMX 105, the AMX 13, and finally the Rank 6 AMX 13 F3 AM – all without ever selling off ANY of the previous Tanks.  That adds some complications to the mix.

“Basically to do this I not only need to play in that line of tanks to get the XP required to research, I will need to build the Silver required for the purchases of both the research AND the cost of the tanks, and in addition to all that, I have to be sure to I have suffcient Garage Slots to have all five of those tanks as well as all of the other tanks I own.

“Because for sure you are going to want to work other trees at the same time…

“The best way to acquire Garage Slots is to keep an eye on the sales screen in the game.  Every now and then there will be special sales like the one that is on now – so by  spending 400 gold I can obtain a starter kit with 1 Garage Slot, 2 XP Boosts, and a collection of supplies.

“Normally a Garage Slot will cost me 300 Gold anyway – but by spending the 400 Gold on that Special Sale deal I got the Garage Slot (300g) plus 2 x3 XP Boosts (a x5 pack is 438 Gold on sale so figure that is 175g alone), while the other odds and ends ordinarily cost Silver but that doesn’t matter – I got them and 475g worth of other items including the Garage Slot for 400g – so I did okay.

“If you don’t want to check the Store every day looking for a deal, just buy the Garage Slot at full retail cost – but I prefer deals.”

I then explained how picking three or four tree paths under separate flags was a good idea since the first battle you play with each every day automatically gets a x2 XP bonus – and you can increase THAT by applying bonus XP multiplier items as well – and there you go!

“The real issue here – at least for you Jimmy – is that you have not yet tasted success.  You need to see some real progress in your game before you are going to start feeling like you are gaining something.

“So pick three paths under three different flags, ideally three different types of tank, and then start working them as described.”

And that was where the conversation ended.  He said he would, and as far as I know he did.  As to whether that made a difference?  He is still playing – and he no longer complains or says the game is stupid – so I would like to think it did.

Are you playing World of Tanks?  If the answer is no, then why not?  It really is a fun game.  Just saying.

Need for Speed (2015) – Getting Personal

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Prologue

The Video Games landscape over the course of just the past five years has changed immensely, and not just due to the introduction of two new core platforms (Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One) but also as a result of a move towards altering its basic focus.

That sort of evolution is not strange to this subculture and the people who make up its citizens.  If you are surprised by my use of words like “citizens” and “subculture” perhaps you are not as deeply invested into the social side of gaming as you think.  Because in most respects the VG Community as a whole and the many specialized groups that essentially make up its defined subcultures are every bit a culture-based society of its own within the greater entity that we think of as human society.

That was not always true.

When the first Video Games War happened in the mid 1980s as the value and the quality of the games that were being created and sold was called into question by its own community, the idea that a cultural identity might be formed from something like a Video Game community was certainly not what might be said as a normal evolution.

In Japan they have this expression - the nail that sticks up gets pounded down.  What it means is that choosing to conform is often the best way to survive and even advance.

In Japan they have this expression – the nail that sticks up gets pounded down. What it means is that choosing to conform is often the best way to survive and even advance.

But as other media-based movements began to morph into their own basic cultural and social identities, the cataclysm that resulted from what we now consider to be the first Video Games War of the 20th Century ended up creating the sort of circumstances that naturally opened the door for just that sort of development.

To be blunt, gamers were angry over the process of creating what amounts to Shovel-Ware as cheap and fundamentally broken games were foisted off upon the game consumer community using tactics like misleading advertisements and worse, outright lies that were planted as reviews and/or social commentary at the time that totally misrepresented the substance of what the games were…  All of that had a decidedly hostile consequence with the community eventually turning against the bulk of the studios who were responsible for creating those circumstances.

Taking a look back, what we now know today thanks to the benefits of hindsight is that the publishers rather than the development studios were largely responsible for the decisions to push broken or shoddily made games onto the gaming public – publishers whose interest was solely and narrowly focused upon boosting the black ink contained in the bottom line in order to appease their shareholders.

When you add into that unfortunate reality the very obvious disconnect that existed between the publishers of the games and the studios that crafted them – and then factor in an even larger disconnect between both the development studios and the publishers with their collective relations to the Gamer Community, it gets a lot easier to understand both how it happened and why it resulted in the scorched-earth war.

In the plainest terms, the one side had no clue what the other wanted from their games, and in fact it can be pretty clearly pointed out now that the nearly violent reaction – the First VG War – was absolutely necessary because it was that level of reaction that was required to make the developers fully aware of just how badly they were disappointing their customer base.

Conformity is why there are plenty of supercars and expensive sports cars in the game.  That is expected and, in many cases, spending the time, effort, and the money to obtain this sort of conformity is also expected - if you only wish to appear to be a racer.   The genuine article however tends to choose their rails carefully, picking the best tool for the job - and rarely is that best tool a 911 - more often than not the best tool is a more common one - like setting up a Volvo as a Drift Specialist Car.

Conformity is why there are plenty of supercars and expensive sports cars in the game. That is expected and, in many cases, spending the time, effort, and the money to obtain this sort of conformity is also expected – if you only wish to appear to be a racer. The genuine article however tends to choose their rails carefully, picking the best tool for the job – and rarely is that best tool a 911 – more often than not the best tool is a more common one – like setting up a Volvo as a Drift Specialist Car.

That this conflict resulted in the majority of those development studios being forced out of business alone illustrates how serious the disconnect was, and why it needed to be fixed.

Put another way, the game development studios, taking their leads from the game publishers, were pumping out what amounts to the home-console equivalent to the type of games that were popular in the arcades and bars – the games that were being installed in coin-operated video game arcade machines basically.

The problem with that was, by the mid-1980s the gaming community had matured beyond that sort of focus, and was no longer interested in what was basically a recreation of arcade games for home play.

If a gamer wanted to play an arcade-style game, they would seek those games out in their favorite watering holes or video game arcades – and they DID on a regular basis.

But thanks to some ground-breaking RPG and Action-Adventure games that were created and released through the mid-80s that same gamer community now understood and – what is more – appreciated – what their home gaming consoles could REALLY offer.

So the idea of basically being offered recycled arcade genre drivel on a routine basis not only made them angry, it made the community feel (rightly as it turned out) that they were both being taken for granted and being told what to like.

Taking the job into consideration, if we were choosing the tool we would use for targeting just the Drift Events in the game, that tool would not be a supercar, or sports car, it would be something like this Mustang.  Large, heavy, box-shaped, but fully adaptable.  A car whose basic construction lends itself to solving the problem we wish to solve so that we do not have to completely re-invent the wheel to make that happen.  Just saying...

Taking the job into consideration, if we were choosing the tool we would use for targeting just the Drift Events in the game, that tool would not be a supercar, or sports car, it would be something like this Mustang. Large, heavy, box-shaped, but fully adaptable. A car whose basic construction lends itself to solving the problem we wish to solve so that we do not have to completely re-invent the wheel to make that happen. Just saying…

It got so bad in the end – before the war settled all of that – that a typical video game release had to make ALL of its profits from sales in the first 72 hours following release to the streets, because that was about how long it took for world-of-mouth to basically out a crappy game and kill its sales.

Logically the only possible solution to this situation – and the proper one as it turned out – was to stop making crap games and start to really put in the effort to both seek out what the community wanted, and then deliver that.

So in the end around 80% of the development studios that existed prior to the First VG War were forced out of business not by consumers choosing to boycott them (though they did do that) but rather as the direct result of their inability to change their business models to match the new economic imperative that had developed.

That is to say they did not have the capability to actually innovate – to create new games utilizing a previously established pattern that offered the consumer a larger ratio of entertainment versus cost.  Man that sounds so unlikely, but it was true.  The development studios were so used to picking a handful of elements from a list and then putting together a game whose sole creative elements came down to the colors that were chosen for the palate and whether or not some objects in a game blinked that they found themselves in a rut that offered no exits.

What was true then – and remains true – is that a good idea did not necessarily equate to a good game.  So when a developer managed to create a good game – which meant a commercially viable and successful titles that the consumers of that product actually liked – the decision to begin cranking out sequels really was not a decision at all – it was called a business model!

Now granted, when a sequel was rushed to the market the chances were that it was going to be lower in quality and entertainment than the original, but sometimes that was not true.  The Donkey Kong series is a great example of that – though to be fair Rare and Nintendo did not rush games to market as a general rule – sequel or not.

Still you get the idea – the quality and value of games went up, gamers were happy, and the game culture began to solidify into multiple sub-types based on things like platform and genre.

Practical very rarely equates to the use of words like "sexy" or "intimidating" but then, when you are building a drift car, or a sprinter, what you really want are words like "tight" and "fluid" and "efficient" because in the end the point is not to look good while you race, the point is to transfer energy as rapidly and efficiently as possible between your engine and those big, fat, sticky contact patches that attach your rail to the road.

“Practical” very rarely equates to the use of words like “sexy” or “intimidating” but then, when you are building a drift car, or a sprinter, what you really want are words like “tight” and “fluid” and “efficient” because in the end the point is not to look good while you race, the point is to transfer energy as rapidly and efficiently as possible between your engine and those big, fat, sticky contact patches that attach your rail to the road.

It was all good – some really great gamer series were the result, and from the late 1980s onward there was something of a gaming renaissance in play.

When The Need for Speed arrived on the scene it contained a collection of ideas that really resonated with the gamers of the time, and naturally the wizards behind the game saw great potential for it, as a game series.

For a long time – nearly a decade – the games that were being produced really worked well – they followed the basic pattern that the original had established, and they offered a predictable and quality game play and entertainment experience.

At some point though, as the original wizards were replaced by new and younger ones, the path that they had been following became confused.  Their direction was off, and eventually it got really off.  The format or formula, call it what you will, basically became a muddled idea that anything that involved racing cars was basically okay.  Sort of like what we imagine the situation was when the wizards behind Battlefield came up with Battlefield Hardline.  Just saying…

So when the decision was eventually made that it was time for the Need for Speed series to return to its roots, that involved far more than simply the creation of a great game following the original path.  It involved first seeing if it was even possible to convince the players that the wizards had the ability to do that!

So that is where they were when they sat down to chart out the path to bring Need for Speed (2015) to market.

The wide variety of models in 2015 allows for economical approaches to tings like setting up a bespoke car.  Using models like the 1975 Vovlo 242 and 1965 Ford Mustang for dedicated drifters, the 1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX and 1996 Nissan 180sx Type X for medium range sprinting, and the 1971 Nissan Fairlady 240ZG or 2014 Didge Challenger SRT8 for longer range Circuit Racing.  Sure you can buy more expensive models, but these hit the mark on a budget!

The wide variety of models in 2015 allows for economical approaches to tings like setting up a bespoke car. Using models like the 1975 Vovlo 242 and 1965 Ford Mustang for dedicated drifters, the 1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX and 1996 Nissan 180sx Type X for medium range sprinting, and the 1971 Nissan Fairlady 240ZG or 2014 Dodge Challenger SRT8 for longer range Circuit Racing. Sure you can buy more expensive models, but these hit the mark on a budget!

Need for Speed (2015)

By the time that the game released in November of 2015 the hype that had been generated around it, and the very dedicated and genuine efforts of the PRs who were behind promoting it, had succeeded in the most important parts of what it was they had been hired to accomplish.

They had, in essence, managed to communicate to the gaming public that this new game was both a reboot of the original game series, and that it would offer players the sort and caliber of game play that they not only missed but had come to expect from the series – and so found each of the last half-dozen games in the series to be disappointments because of those expectations.

That is simply amazing.  And not just because it seems reasonable that the wizards behind the games had to pretty much KNOW that was happening, but rather amazing because even though they KNEW that reaction was likely as they crafted and released game after game that failed to include the basic premise that the gamer community expected – but they CONTINUED to create those diverted games anyway!

Think about that for a moment will you?  They managed to so broadly alter the very basic identity of the game series so badly that by the time they got around to working on a series reboot, they had to PAY their Public Relations reps to explain to the gaming public that this new game was NOT going to disappoint them!  Mind blowing.  Simply mind blowing.

The typical mid-80s hot hatch never really looked boss or anything, but they were wicked fun to drive and hey, they got the job done.  Fast.  From a standing start.  A lot.

The typical mid-80s hot hatch never really looked boss or anything, but they were wicked fun to drive and hey, they got the job done. Fast. From a standing start. A lot.

Here There Be Dragons

When the game arrived – and for us that came in the form of a Digital Key that we needed to enter into our Xbox One to unlock a license for the game and then download it from the LIVE service – we were pretty pumped up because the PRs had managed to successfully communicate to us that this new reboot title would not simply revert the game series back to the style and substance we had come to associate with it, but would in effect give us a game play experience that was if not identical to that of the game that first established the series, was at least similar enough so as to make the difference inconsequential.

So by the time the game fully downloaded and patched, we were good and damn ready to be pleased.  Know what?  The game actually delivers on that promise and, even more important, despite being handicapped by the inclusion of a large amount of more recent game play mechanisms, also delivers a level of play, entertainment, and excitement that almost made the last five years of drivel worth it!

Easing our way into NFS 2015 was a complicated and rather slow process, largely because the expectations of disappointment kept getting in the way.

Once we managed to convince the little voices in our head that this was, in fact, NOT going to be the morphed interpretation of a combination of Hot Pursuit, Unleashed, and Wanted, we were able to start judging the game on its own merits, and folks, it has a lot to say for itself.

Making it Our Own?

One of the points to the evolution of the video game as entertainment that really stands out is how well it integrates its own story and game play mech while meeting certain personal expectations that are near-universal among the gaming community.

What I mean by that is actually pretty simple – this is a street-racing game within which the primary components are the streets, and the cars.

That being the case – and admittedly we had hopes – the ultimate expression of success in this case would be the ability for the player to not only find in the catalog of cars in the game one of their favorite models, but also have the ability to customize it.  And all that?  It is here.

Often times when writing a post like this it helps to present an example – so as to make it clear that those warm and fuzzy feelings of satisfaction are in fact based upon some real experience rather than, you know, a hypothetical one?

She was not sexy - look at that rear why don't you?  That said, and maybe she does have a flat butt, even so the '86 Trueno could fly like a scalded dog!

She was not sexy – look at that rear why don’t you? That said, and maybe she does have a flat butt, even so the ’86 Trueno could fly like a scalded dog!

1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX

In the 1980s there were a lot of cars that certainly qualified as performance examples – and just like any era you might care to designate, there were cars that ended up being slightly or greatly more popular than others.

In 1980s Australia (which is where I was and grew up) the go-fast choo-choo cars of the era that you often read about in race magazines about the street racing scene in Cali were mostly restricted to a small list of really expensive rails that nobody actually had in Oz.  Corvettes, Camaros, Porches, and the like, which hey, we would have LOVED to have but reality bites.

No, what you found in Oz – and I suspect that this was also true about America, the UK, and Europe – was a more reserved list of cars – mostly the sort that doubled as your daily transportation when you were not taking them out on the weekend to race them.

What am I talking about?  Well, this list is pretty representative of what you often found at the time on the street, actually racing:

  • Alfa Romeo Alfasud
  • Audi 5000CS Turbo Quattro
  • BMW M3 E30
  • BMW M5 E28
  • Ford Falcon XP
  • Holden VL Calais Director
  • Honda Civic Si
  • Honda CRX HF
  • Honda Prelude
  • Lancia Delta Integrale
  • Lancia Delta S4 Stradale
  • Mazda RX7
  • Mini Cooper
  • Nissan 240SX
  • Nissan Z31 300ZX Fairlady
  • Peugeot 205 GTi
  • Saab 900 Turbo
  • Subaru GL-10 Turbo
  • Subaru GL Brat
  • Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno
  • Toyota W10 MR2
  • Volkswagen Golf Mk1 GTI

From that list there was a handful of cars I truly liked.  In fact one car in particular I both liked but could never quite manage to afford – and that was the 1986 Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno.  Yeah, compared to some of the cars that came later it was really more of a bare-bones racer than the jewel in the crown, but the heart wants what the heart wants.  And my heart wanted a Trueno!

With a base sticker price of $65,200 the '15 Ford Mustang GT is not exactly what we would call a mid-priced sports car and certainly she is not an entry-level model, but  her stock-standard 5.0L Ti-VCT V8 automatically qualifies her as a certified production-class   Muscle Car.  If you choose to bypass the dealer options and order her from the factory with the optional 5.2L V8 via the Shelby Conversion package you get 526 hp with 429 lb.-ft. of torque straight from the production line.  Sweet right?

With a base sticker price of $65,200 the ’15 Ford Mustang GT is not exactly what we would call a mid-priced sports car and certainly she is not an entry-level model, but her stock-standard 5.0L Ti-VCT V8 automatically qualifies her as a certified production-class
Muscle Car.  If you choose to bypass the dealer options and order her from the factory with the optional 5.2L V8 via the Shelby Conversion package you get 526 hp with 429 lb.-ft. of torque straight from the production line. Sweet right?

So you can imagine how stoked I was to discover that exact car among the catalog of cars available in the game.

From the get go I started out with a 2014 Subaru BRZ Premium – as that was the starter car I liked best from the three that I had to choose from.  Using that car I began doing races to get the bank I would need not only to buy me a Trueno, but then to afford to upgrade it.

I have reached that point in my game play.  I am happy – thrilled!  Tickled!  Very pleased?  To tell you that I now proudly race the following go-fast choo-choo Trueno:

1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX

Its performance specs are:

  • 0-60 mph (s) — 4.53s
  • 0-100 mph (s) — 9.67s
  • 1/4 mile (s) / (mph) — 12.70s @ 119
  • Top Speed (mph) — 166
  • Horsepower (hp) — 353
  • Max Torque (ft-lb) — 255

Bearing in mind that I am only Level 13 at this point and so am quite limited as to the kit I can buy, its present very winning load-out in kit and upgrades consists of:

  • Air Filter: Short RAM Air Intake.
  • Cooling System: Intercooler w/h 26 x 6.
  • Intake Manifold: Aftermarket Edition.
  • Fuel System: High Performance Fuel Injectors.
  • Forced Induction: Turbocharger EliteTune-TC2-B-PRO.
  • Electric System: Aftermarket Wiring.
  • Ignition: Stock.
  • ECU: Sport ECU Flash.
  • Engine Block: Elite TUning Ported Block v.2.
  • CAM Shaft: Aftermarket Sport Plus Elite 4 243 int / 283 exh.
  • Cylinder Heads: Sport Plished.
  • Exhaust Manifold: Sport EL Manifold.
  • Exhaust: Sport Catted Race Exhaust.
  • Clutch: Sport Clutch w/0.4s gear change time.
  • Nitrous System: 5lb Capacity Time Refill.
  • Suspension: Semi-Adjustable Sport Suspension.
  • Differential: Semi-Adjustable Sport Differential.
  • Tires: E/T-G2-MID-GRP SpeedHunters.
  • Brakes: Semi-Adjustable Sport Brakes.
  • Handbrake: Semi-Adjustable Sport Handbrakes.
  • Sway Bars: Semi-Adjustable Sport Sway Bars.

That is way beyond just respectible mind you – heck in the 1980s if you had told me that I would be able to get 252 Horsepower in that configuration I would have been like ?!  As in what the heck could I possible need that much for?!  What else HAD that much?!

I still think that using the right tool for the right job is the way to go - so if you are setting up a bespoke drifter for tight and twisty mountain roads you could do a lot worse than this one.

I still think that using the right tool for the right job is the way to go – so if you are setting up a bespoke drifter for tight and twisty mountain roads you could do a lot worse than this one.

And the thing is I would totally have better specs for this ride if I was just ten levels higher in XP because why?  Because the really good kit is Level-Locked!

In My Other Life

In addition to being a freelance writer who works the business and tech beats, I also write extensively on the video games beat as both a game guide and walkthrough writer, industry news journalist, and video game reviewer – yeah I know, getting paid to play video games, cool right?

That said, I reviewed Need for Speed (2015) for the Cape Cod Times – if you would like to see what my impressions of the game were in the review arena, head on over and check out the review at the following online link:

The Game On Review of Need for Speed (2015)

 

Forza 3 Guilt

When the next title in the Forza Motorsport series — Forza Motorsport 5 or FM5 for short —  was released a running conversation began among mates about the game, what we were all looking forward to, and the value (or lack thereof) of playing the previous titles in the series before playing FM5 if just to have the experience.

These are racing simulations with absolutely no story or campaign mode beyond the actual racing experience, so it is not like there is a need to play the previous games in order to be able to effectively play the most recent title.

Still there are some reasons to play the previous games – for example if you happen to be a committed and serious fan of auto-racing simulations, or a member of the Forza Faithful (though in the latter case why haven’t you played FM3 before??) that is good reason enough.

As I am known to be a fan of the series, I was asked – and because I am a fan of the series my response to those who asked me was to say “heck yeah you should play the previous games in the series!”

fm3-1

Forza Rewards (rewards.forzamotorsport.net)

That enthusiastic response was actually given BEFORE the remembering of the newest loyalty program offered by studio Turn 10 (the creator of the Forza games) which is called the Forza Rewards Program, and just like it sounds, rewards players for playing the Forza Motorsport games.

Specifically FRP rewards players for whatever progress they made in pretty much ALL of the previous titles with the exception of the first game in the series, which was an Xbox original title and therefore has no Achievements or network save-related data associated to it.

Since the FRP system uses the network save and Achievements data to award points, it is quite obviously in a players best interest to have unlocked as many Achievements and goals in the games as possible.

The following criteria is used for the Forza Rewards Program:

Forza Motorsport 2 (500 Points Total)

  • Achievements (500 Points)

Forza Motorsport 3 (1,000 Points Total)

  • Achievements (300 Points)
  • Days Played (200 Points)
  • Miles Driven (100 Points)
  • Cars Owned (200 Points)
  • Driver Level (100 Points)
  • Paid DLC Owned (100 Points)

Forza Motorsport 4 (2,000 Points Total)

  • Achievements (350 Points)
  • Days Played (300 Points)
  • Miles Driven (250 Points)
  • Perfect Passes (50 Points)
  • Cars Owned (250 Points)
  • Driver Level (250 Points)
  • Paid DLC Owned (250 Points)
  • Tokens Purchased (300 Points)

Forza Horizon (2,000 Points Total)

  • 1000 Club Challenges (200 Points)
  • Cars Owned (150 Points)
  • Miles Driven (250 Points)
  • Perfect Passes (50 Points)
  • Achievements (400 Points)
  • Days Played (400 Points)
  • Paid DLC Owned (250 Points)
  • Tokens Purchased (300 Points)

Forza Motorsport 5 (3,000 Points Total)

  • Achievements (500 Points)
  • Cars Owned (250 Points)
  • Driver Level (250 Points)
  • Paid DLC (350 Points)
  • Tokens Purchased (350 Points)
  • Badges and Titles Unlocked (400 Points)
  • Days Played (500 Points)
  • Miles Driven (350 Points)
  • Perfect Passes (50 Points)

The cumulative points that are gained via the above games add up to the Tier Level for the rewards system, which translates to a reward of credits and, depending upon the game, also a reward of cars.  As far as I can tell the games that have rewards from the Tier Levels are FM4, Horizon, and FM5.

Feelings of Guilt

So having made the recommendation to my mates the notion that the previous games in the series may have reached their official “End of Life” as far as Microsoft and Turn 10 are concerned just never occurred to me.

Seriously – and if it had, while I might have entertained the notion that the original Forza and perhaps FM2 might have reached that point, as I distinctly recall having recently seen brand new copies of Forza Ultimate 3 on the shelf at my local GameStop, the idea that FM3 might be in that nebulous and very unfair status again simply did not occur to me…

So imagine my shock and horror when my mate rang me up telling me that following my advice they had gone and purchased a copy of Forza Ultimate 3 ($29.99 new) and, after getting it home and installing it as per the onscreen instructions, were unable to use the download codes that came with the game because – wait for it – the game it seems has reached its End of Life and as such is no longer supported.

Which means that ALL of the game-related DLC has been removed from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace.  When means that NONE of the codes that are included with the game will actually work.

I did some digging and discovered that the so-called End of Life declaration went into effect in August of 2013.

fm3-2

If You Got It You Still Got It

The really terrible part of this story is that while new players who are just discovering FM3 for the first time are basically locked out of the DLC (save for whatever appears on the companion disc for the Ultimate version that is) gamers who previously owned any of the aforementioned removed DLC can still download it whenever they like.

I know this for a fact because of an odd situation…

You see my original copy of Forza 3 was scratched by an evil cat who somehow got it out of its case and really did a number on it – and boy don’t I wish I knew what I did to the cat to make her do that to my game!

Because the disc was damaged to the point it was not playable, I too went and purchased a new copy of Forza Ultimate 3 – but when I tried to play the game all sorts of things went wrong!  Tracks only half-drew, some tracks would instantly show the bad disc warning, it was as if the disc I was using and the game installed on my hard drive were two different games!

Well, they were actually…   It seems that my game save and saved game were calling for memory locations that were wrong on the new game disc, and that was creating all sorts of problems – so I had to completely delete the installation of the game from my hard drive, at which point having done so I realized much to my horror that that included all of the DLC content!

Without expecting much to happen, I went to the downloaded content list on my 360 and the first one I found in this very ancient list was a car pack – a car pack that no longer exists on the Marketplace.  But you know what?  It downloaded just fine thanks.

For the record I was able to re-download the following DLC, in this order:

  • Hyundai Car Pack (Game Add-on)
  • Motorsport Legends Car and Track Pack (Game Add-on)
  • Community Choice Classics Sample (Game Add-on)
  • Forza Ultimate Sample (Game Add-on)
  • World Class Sample (Game Add-on)
  • VIP Car Pack (Game Add-on)

Needless to say I was shocked.  The content is not available to anybody who has a valid code, it is not available for purchase, but if you have previously downloaded it, it is present and available?

I can see how someone who has just purchased the game for the first time would find that to be more than annoying – they might find it to be insulting…

I know that I felt guilty all over again – having sung the praises of the game only to have it turn out this way.

So, and I know this will not mean much to you all, but I am very sorry for leading you all astray in suggesting that you purchase the game…  I know that you can still play the game (it is not broken) and that that bonus install disc has a lot of DLC content, but it is still not quite the same as what you were expecting – and having codes you cannot use must really rankle bad.

Sorry mates…

Judging Gears of War: Judgement

gowj0

The Gears of War series has long been a favorite  – and really why wouldn’t it be?

It is a great game that has some great characters who you can easily grow to care about.  It is packed with plot twists and turns, it has something for pretty much everyone at least in terms of likes and expectations, and presents just the sort of light story content and heavy online multi-player.

When Gears of War arrived in in November 2006 it was already deep into the new game season.  It was an instant hit.  Really though that was not a surprise – like most AAA titles it got its fair share of promotion but even so there was an aura surrounding the game, and it is easy to understand why.

Of course shooters and Action-Adventure games today have very strong multi-player sides to them because, well, you cannot really make a shooter today that doesn’t.

The reason for that is because games like Gears set the standard for that side of things – and besides gamers LIKE being able to get together with their buds and kick the crap out of each other.  It is part of our DNA.

The fact that the team you played in Gears was likeable and, as odd as this sounds, came to be almost like friends as you helped them try to understand the Bug-Eyed-Monsters (BEMS) they were facing and why.  Aliens, yup, no question!

By the time Gears of War 2 hit consoles all over the world (it was November again, but this time it was November 2008) two years had passed – long enough for most fans to have played the hell out of Gears and be very ready for the next chapter in the series.

I am not sure that they were ready for Gears 2 really – things took a sort of dark twist – but the Gears stuck together and the boss mobs was exactly as tough as it needed to be to keep us angry at those damn bugs!

Gears of War 3 arrived in September 2011 (two months before we thought it would) and the very loud pre-release publicity claimed that it would wrap things up.

Unfortunately while it lived up to the pre-release hype and really did answer a lot of the questions that we had, it also gut-punched the serious fans, with events that left them reeling.

Okay…  There is room for that.  And besides that, all dogs go to heaven, right?   So do all Gears, right?

As noted a major element in the build-up to the release of Gears 3 was that this third story would answer a LOT of the questions that the previous games had left hanging in the air…

gowj4

Gears 3 Surprises
Shortly after the release of Gears 3 a lot of things happened in quick succession: it was announced that the story arc that was supposed to have just concluded was not really over – despite having answered a LOT of questions, there were still some more that needed to be addressed.

Now most gamers took this to mean that the next game in the series – Gears of War 4 – would be a continuation of GoW3, though just how that would be managed no one could say (or figure out.

Then Epic announced a spin-off for the series was coming called Gears of War: Exile. It was going to be for the Kinect, it was going to be a tight play experience, and even if you disposed Kinect, you were supposed to love it.

Hints and innuendo continued to leak as the fans and gamer world grew even more convinced that GoW 4 was going to take the current story farther – but as the hype train began to build for E3 a massive revelation leaked.

It turned out that when they said that “the next GoW would answer even more questions” they were NOT talking about GoW 4 – they were talking about something called Gears of War: Judgement.

As the details began to take real shape though, it became clear that while Judgement was legitimately part of the cannon for the first story Arc, it was NOT GoW4! Not only that but it was set to share experiences and info that covered a very broad range of times and places.

So OK that took some getting used to – but we were all set for E3 2012 and we were convinced that a lot of the questions we had about how GoW: Judgement would fit into the picture would be addressed there – all that we had to do was be patient, and attend the event.

So we were patient and waited for E3, where more things seemed to happen all at once: GoW: Judgement was part of the first arc, fully included in cannon, but was NOT a main-story chapter.

It was to be a prequel, it was to address specific issues that lead to the reasons behind how Delta became such a tight-nit unit, and provide the dirty details regarding the rumor and whispers in the first three games about the Gears being war criminals.

Oh, and we learned that Gears of War: Exile had been canceled.

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Winds of Change?

If we could briefly travel into the future —  say to the year 2050 — and then look back at the present day through the eyes of a gamer yet unborn, what we would see is a gaming world clearly divided by themes.

The first decade of the 21st Century — basically the years 2000 through 2009 — which in addition to being the first decade in the new millennium also happened to be the decade of dissent.

New game series were introduced and old game series were rebooted – but far more important than that is the changes that took place in the games community in terms of expectations and the industry with respect to focus, as the traditional  player-vs-player elements usually found in shooters became part of the DNA of pretty much EVERY game that qualified (even loosely mind you) as an Acton-Adventure title!

It reached the point that game studios and developers would not even think about releasing a game that lacked a robust online multi-player mode – and that turned out to be a very good thing indeed!

Dramatic changes occurred — not just in new titles but in the reboots of well-established game series from the 90’s like the Grand Theft Auto series — meant that studios had unlimited opportunities to recycle previous games by taking on a new multi-player mode.

Even marginal titles suddenly had new life breathed into them because gamers were ready for more.

While there was no way to accurately predict how good a new game was, one thing you could predict was that it would have an online cooperative multi-player mode!   This applied not just to Shooters but remains true even respecting Action-Adventure and Stealth titles.

If you fast-forward to the present day you find that games like Gears of War: Judgement have legitimately inherited the mantel of hardcore online Cooperative and PvP to the extent that the game has more online MP and CMP modes and content than it does Story-Mode Campaign!

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Which Brings us Properly to Judgement

Right, so if you were present at E3 2012 you got to sit in the catbird seat and really understand and appreciate the lengths that the development and planning team at Epic had gone to in order to address a lot of the nagging open questions in the story and plot that somehow yet remained in spite of the efforts that they made to address it all in GoW 3…

Bearing in mind that the Developers went out of their way to communicate the fact that Judgement was not to be a full-length game, was definitely NOT to be considered Gears of War 4, and was meant to be a fusion of 3/4 prequel and 1/4 wrap-up from GoW 3 and there is no room whatsoever for confusion, right?  Well… Not so much really.

Somehow and in spite of the pains that Epic went through to make sure that gamers knew that Judgement was not the first game in the next story arc for the Gears sage — somehow even though they made it clear on multiple and very visible occasions that Judgement was being created to fulfill the promises that were made years ago to provide players with closure of the first story arc…  Somehow a significant number of gamers and fans STILL got it wrong.

We actually sat through the briefing and demo at E3 TWICE just to be sure that we fully understood the message that was being delivered – and I am pretty sure we have it right.  We wanted to fully grok what it was, what it was to be, and how it all fit together.

During the Q&A one of the developers let slip to an Intern — who asked a specific question that I think the dev was not expecting — that the timeline in Judgement was split up into events that took place BEFORE Gears of War, and activity that took place just before the end of Gears of War 3.  That was confirmation of info that had not, up to that point, been public.

So when GoW: Judgement arrived and was precisely what the Epic Wizards said it was, you could have knocked me over with a feather when a significantly large percentage of the fan base began to shit all over the game, complaining that it was not long enough, that it was a disappointment, that the play style was “too different” and that it “Was Not Gears 4!”

Well sure it was not Gears 4 – I mean hell, they TOLD US that it was not Gears 4!

The venom that was being vented did not make sense.

This was happening before anyone could possibly have played through and completely understood what was being communicated in the game.

The negativity was flowing freely on day one of the launch cycle – but of course I would only discover how wrong these people were a week later, after I had the chance to play through the game in order to form my own impression.

Ultimately I found nothing to dislike at all –  in fact when I used the word “ambitious” to describe the game approach I had no idea at the time just how accurate that would turn out to be!

While GoW: Judgement did turn out to be considerably shorter than I wanted it to be, it certainly was not lacking in quality – and oh boy did it explain a lot.

The first three-quarters of the Judgement addressed the series of events that fully qualified as Prequel Content, being the back-story behind the two protagonist supporting character: Cole and Baird – heck that alone made it worth the price of admission!

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This Bloke Named Baird

Lieutenant Damon S. Baird was a commissioned officer in the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) — and the fact that he was a Lieutenant came as a shock to a lot of players and fans, myself included, as in the first three games he was nothing more than a grunt!

A major element in the story in Judgement consists of the revelations explaining HOW it was that he became Private Baird and as I say, that alone was worth the $39.99 we paid for this game!

You see it works out that Baird may look like a blonde California Surfer Dude and may act like one too, but his looks and ‘tude are very deceiving.

Not only is he a brilliant genius who could legitimately be addressed as Doctor Baird, he also happens to be the son of a wealthy family who chose to serve; he was not drafted!

This Bloke Named Cole

The Cole that we get to play and play with in Judgement is a very different man than the one we meet and play as and with later in the main series.  For one thing he is funnier now than he eventually became.  The good humor and positive attitude had not yet been beaten out of him at this point.

He still held distrust for officers, sure, but in the early days he must have been a lot of fun to hang and party with – based on his attitude and personality he was surely the life of the party.  It was good to get to know that version of him!

All Bafflement Aside

All of this considered, if you are a Gears fan and you are on the fence about Judgement, do not let the negativity of the vocal minority in the fan base keep you from playing this game.  It is priced as a short game because it is a short game – nobody at Epic tried to mislead any player – the people that are crapping all over this game either did not listen when the game was revealed at E3 or they are crapping just for the sake of taking a big huge dump!

Gears of War: Judgement is, in our opinion, totally worth the admission price.  I am glad I played it!

A Little Bit at a Time

It tends to surprise my mates when they look at the Achievements List on my official Xbox Gamer Tag and see that all of the Achievements for certain games have not already been unlocked…  Games that have existed on my account for — in several cases — time periods measured in years.

This is not a case of one of my mates noticing a game like LA Noire and saying “how could you have stopped playing at X number of Achievements unlocked?!” or anything like that, but more a case of — well, let me quote the actual PM:

D00d WTH?!  I get it that you only have half the Chieves for Wolfenstein 3D but you have owned Doom for like three years and you still have not finished Episode 2??!?!?!  And don’t hit me with that lame assed excuse you always use and say you just do not have the time to game for pleasure anymore because we both know that is utter pants!

OK, for the record I have 59 of 60 Achievements unlocked for LA Noire — it would be 60/60 but I loaned the game to a friend six months ago and never had the opportunity to drop by their house, which is at mid-Cape so is not really convenient for me to visit but eventually I will, and then I will loan them another stack of games and get mine back…  Still…

So here is the deal: there are certain games on my Xbox that I play in small, bite-sized and very sincerely savored chunks.  Doom is one of them, so is Wolfenstein — in fact here is the complete list of games that I play (and their Achievements Count since my mates seem to be unnaturally focused upon that odd statistic plus the day I first played them) strictly for pleasure and for which I indulge myself in taking my time:

  • Call of Duty Classic (5/12) 12 February 2010
  • Crackdown 2 (12/70) 1 July 2010
  • Doom (5/12) 27 October 2008
  • Forza Motorsport 2/3/4  (38/44 – 48/50 – 53/58)  10/13/08 – 11/23/09 – 10/11/11
  • Hasbro Family Game Night  (38/91) 30 May 2009
  • Mercury HG (7/18) 27 September 2011
  • Minecraft (16/20) 13 May 2012
  • Naughty Bear (13/66) 8 July 2010
  • Oblivion (19/60) 9 December 2009
  • Snoopy Flying Ace (2/12) 28 July 2010
  • Ticket to Ride  (15/15)  22 September 2008
  • Tony Hawk’s PS HD  (5/16) 21 July 2012
  • Toy Soldiers & TS Cold War   (6/18 & 8/20)  3/9/10 – 2/9/12
  • Wolfenstein 3D  (6/12)  10 August 2012
  • Zuma  (2/12)  14 February 2010

Now to be fair you may look at my games played list and think that for certain titles I just game up on them, but that is not the case…  For instance it was not an unwillingness to play but the actual inability to play the following games that caused me to stop playing them:

  • FIFA 12 (2/45) I am not a big fan of sports games…
  • Fruit Ninja Kinect (0/21) I prefer to watch Autumn play, she is a wizard!
  • Gears of War (11/57) Co-Op Game Peter and I play when we have the time.
  • G.R.A.W. (5/43) Seriously bugged, crashes and cannot be played.
  • Puzzle Quest (1/12) I just do not like this game…
  • Scrap Metal (1/12) Cannot get past the level I am stuck on…
  • The Sims 3 (15/50) Cannot find the disc, it went missing!

So there you have it — the full statistical analysis of my games, game play preferences, and the games that I consider to be treasures that are to be enjoyed in small play sessions so as to squeeze the maximum enjoyment and entertainment out of them!

Now beyond the above lists I shall share with you my Top Ten All Time Favorite Games from my Games Played List on the Xbox 360 (note that this does not represent my All Time Favorite Games of All Time Every since it only includes the games on the Xbox 360 Console, just saying).  These are the Top 10 as I say, with Numero Uno being the most favored, and etc.

  1. Fallout 3 (72/72) First Played on 3 December 2008
  2. Forza Motorsports 4 (53/58) 11 October 2011
  3. Dragon Age: Origins (49/76) 16 December 2009
  4. Hitman: Blood Money (24/24) 13 June 2008
  5. The Godfather (56/58) 24 September 2008
  6. Assassin’s Creed II (48/50) 4 December 2009
  7. Forza Motorsport 2 (38/44) 13 October 2008
  8. Alan Wake (48/67) 29 April 2010
  9. Final Fantasy XIII (31/35) 6 April 2010
  10. Bully: Scholarship Edition (36/38) 6 June 2008

Now that I have shared mine with you, you should share yours with me, so please comment back to me your Top Ten All Time Favorite Games from YOUR Games Played List on YOUR Xbox 360!